I am deeply disturbed by the treatment of Haiyan Bai, a citizen of China hired to teach Chinese at Hamden High School who was wrongfully dismissed from the job.
I believe she was fired because she requested full payment of her compensation and, when that failed, demanded payment through her attorney.
Bai began teaching in August, yet she was not paid anything until Oct. 9, when she received $800 plus a $1,000 stipend for transportation.
The May 29 “letter of appointment” signed by Hamlet Hernandez, Hamden’s assistant school superintendent, promised a salary of $26,967 and a housing benefit of $8,500.
The schools deducted the housing benefit and a sizeable chunk of her salary from her paycheck. So far, she has received only $5,150, less than one-fifth of the promised salary.
Bai was arrested Dec. 20 based on an altercation in her apartment with her roommate, a Chinese teacher at Hamden Middle School, who, Bai says, filed a false complaint. The charges were summarily dismissed Jan. 8 in Superior Court.
The roommate, also paid a fraction of her salary, has not pursued the matter. She retains her job.
Less than a day after the arrest, and never seeking Bai’s side of the story, Hernandez gave the high school Chinese teacher position to a long-term substitute teacher.
The same day, Bai got an e-mail from Hanban, the Chinese agency that recruited her to teach in the United States, ordering her home.
Bai was called before her principal, department head and Hernandez Dec. 22. Although she is on leave as a university professor of American and English literature in China, English is not her first language. Yet, she was not given the benefit of a translator or the moral support of a colleague at the meeting, where she was asked to help find her own replacement, then effectively fired.
At that point, she and Hernandez already had been at odds for weeks over pay and other terms of her employment.
Hernandez was quoted in the Register, saying Bai’s “employment stopped because the College Board (which acts as an agent matching schools in the U.S. with teachers furnished by Hanban) released her, and she is no longer a member of the guest teacher program.”
That is a subterfuge.
On Jan. 8, an attorney for the College Board Chinese Guest Teachers Program, in a conversation with Bai’s attorney, Peter Ricciardi, “was very clear” that the College Board did not hire Bai and therefore “could not fire” her, but added that it had been asked by Hamden to fire her.
“College Board was quite confident that (the) arrest would provide everyone with sufficient cover for their actions,” said Ricciardi. The lawyer, Ricciardi said, “was quite concerned” when told there was a good chance the court would dismiss the case, which it did.
There were never any grounds for Bai’s firing.
Hamden school officials have not asserted, nor can they, that she was negligent or delinquent in her duties.
Students and parents made eloquent, respectful pleas to the Board of Education Jan. 12 to reinstate a teacher whose work has been universally hailed. The pleas fell on deaf ears.
Bai was dismissed for insisting on her rights. A Freedom of Information request has been filed with the Hamden schools and the College Board that can provide more proof to strengthen her case.
Bai’s visa, pulled as a result of the wrongful actions of the Hamden schools and the College Board, expires Friday. If her job is not restored before then, she is obliged to leave the country.
A week ago, when I expressed outrage to an administrator about Bai’s treatment, I was told she should be glad she’s not back in China, where things probably would be much worse. When I said that was no excuse to abuse her, I was told that Bai is not “one of us.”
Tragically, school administrators are trying to force Bai to China to face consequences, not of her making, that might lead to the end of her academic career there, and economic hardship. She appears to have fewer rights in America than Sept. 11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
I urge readers to demand that Hamden restore Bai to her job. Members of the school board should know they must answer to voters for their negligence, if they run again for office.
Garry Apgar teaches French at Hamden High School. Write to him at 40 Bennett St., Bridgeport 06605. E-mail: GarryApgar@gmail.com.
Monday, January 25, 2010
From the New Haven Register: